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Photo fraud: CNN resurrects the Rachel Corrie libel

Nine years after the fact, the news network continues to use discredited pictures to give the false impression that the American activist was purposefully run over

Much has been written about how the Rachel Corrie case was handled in the courtroom. Yet all the while, a more subtle judgment has been taking place in the court of public opinion.

So while the Israeli court ruled that Corrie’s 2003 death was an accident – given that the bulldozer driver was unable to detect Corrie’s presence – that ruling did not stop CNN from promoting the canard that Corrie was “intentionally murdered.”

In describing the verdict, a CNN video report depicted Corrie standing in plain view of an Israeli bulldozer, with a megaphone in hand, as CNN reporter Frederik Pleitgen intoned: “These photos show the moments before she was killed.”

(photo credit: International Solidarity Movement)

If Corrie was indeed standing with a megaphone and fully visible at the moment she was crushed, it is difficult to believe that the Israeli driver failed to see her.

The CNN report is a lie.

This photo was actually taken hours before the fatal incident. At the time of the accident, Corrie was without a megaphone and was in a hidden, crouched position.

The following photo, taken minutes after the accident, shows Corrie bleeding on the ground:

(photo credit: International Solidarity Movement)
(photo credit: International Solidarity Movement)

Any honest journalist can see that this second photo shows a different bulldozer. Note the large mud spot on the right side of the bulldozer’s blade. Additionally, this second bulldozer has smaller windows and an 8-foot-tall bulldozer blade that greatly obscures driver visibility.

CNN’s misleading photo and caption cannot be passed off as merely an honest mistake.

When the incident originally occurred nine years ago, the International Solidarity Movement (ISM), the group that sponsored Corrie’s stay in Gaza, seized the opportunity to promote Corrie’s death as a blood libel. As ISM director George Rishmawi, told the San Francisco Chronicle, placing American students in danger is good for the Palestinian cause because “if some of these foreign volunteers get shot or even killed, then the international media will sit up and take notice.”

ISM quickly distributed photos of Rachel Corrie, and CNN got bamboozled by the “intentional murder” bait – juxtaposing “before-and-after” photos: first showing Corrie holding a megaphone in plain view of the bulldozer, then showing her bleeding on the ground.

At the time, I was the director of HonestReporting.com and aggressively addressed this “creative chronology” libel. Since I had previously caught CNN in some major gaffes, the network had assigned a senior executive as my private liaison. This executive told me up front: “If you have a problem, come to me directly. Assuming that it’s reasonable, we’ll cooperate and make the appropriate changes.”

So, on March 16, 2003, when the fatal incident occurred, I got on the hotline to CNN.

“Oops,” my contact said, after I explained. “I see the problem. But we’re busy with a war right now. US troops are on the outskirts of Baghdad, ready to invade. Can’t this wait till next week?”

“No it can’t,” I told him. “Israel is being accused of murdering a young American girl in cold blood. CNN is fueling that misperception.”

“We’ll issue a ‘caption clarification’ right away,” he told me, “to emphasize the chronological difference between the two photos. But I’m busy right now.”

“No, it has to be now,” I said. After a tense phone conversation, CNN quickly published the “caption clarification.”

Now, nine years later, with the Israeli court verdict, CNN still hasn’t learned its lesson. Due either to anti-Israel bias or to pure sloppiness, CNN continues to use the megaphone photos, promoting the libel of Israel intentionally murdering Americans.

But that’s not all. This week’s CNN video report also featured a different photo of Rachel Corrie standing in extremely close proximity to an Israeli bulldozer:

(photo credit: International Solidarity Movement)

If Corrie really was that close, this again casts grave doubt – in the words of CNN reporter Frederik Pleitgen – on the Israeli claim that the bulldozer driver “had no possibility of seeing Ms. Corrie.”

Yet this photo is a total fraud.

Consider: The shadow appearing to the right of Corrie is quite short, suggesting a high sun angle, perhaps almost noon for that time and place. Yet this is inconsistent with the fatal incident that occurred at 5 p.m. – late afternoon on a winter day.

Furthermore, Corrie’s shadow is much longer than that of the bulldozer. The man in the photo, meanwhile, casts no shadow at all.

The only conclusion is that this photo is a doctored montage of various images, taken at different places and times, and then cobbled together in a crude Photoshop job – in an attempt to present a falsified version of events.

This is an outrageous act of media malpractice. Yet CNN presents this as a legitimate “news” photo.

I am not entirely surprised.

CNN’s bias against Israel has long been established. Back at the start of the second Intifada, I conducted a statistical study of a large sampling of CNN.com articles. As documented in my book, “David & Goliath: The Explosive Inside Story of Media Bias in the Israeli-Arab Conflict,” I measured key indicators about the weight given to the respective sides of the conflict (e.g. number of spokespeople quoted), and found that CNN was consistently skewed in favor of the Palestinians by a two-to-one margin.

I could not stand by and let CNN trample on Israel. So I launched a campaign to expose CNN’s anti-Israel bias, and readers of my media alerts “sent up to 6,000 e-mails a day to CNN executives, effectively paralyzing their internal e-mail system” (Jerusalem Post, June 28, 2002). The impact of this campaign was so successful that The New York Times cited it as creating a major shift in policy at CNN.

At CNN, however, the bias against Israel has proved to be an ingrained culture, seeping out of the fissures:

• When two Palestinian suicide bombings on consecutive days killed 26 Israelis in Jerusalem, CNN founder Ted Turner was quoted in the London Guardian as supporting the bombings: “So who are the terrorists? I would make a case that both sides [Israel and Palestinians] are involved in terrorism.”

• In 2007, Christiane Amanpour’s three-part documentary on religious fundamentalism, “God’s Warriors,” equated jihadist Islamic terror to benign Jewish activities like fundraising for Israel. It’s what Dan Abrams of MSNBC later called “a defense of Islamic fundamentalism and the worst type of moral relativism.”

• In 2009, Nidal Rafa, who for many years served as a CNN senior producer in Jerusalem, displayed her “journalistic objectivity” by repeatedly heckling Knesset member Danny Ayalon and calling him a “fascist.”

• When Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah – the spiritual leader of Hezbollah who provided the fatwa for the bombing that killed 241 American servicemen at the Marine barracks in Beirut – died in July 2010, CNN’s senior editor of Mideast affairs, Octavia Nasr, posted on Twitter her sadness over the passing of “one of Hezbollah’s giants I respect a lot.” (She was fired later that week.)

This loss of credibility has greatly impacted CNN’s bottom line. After enjoying decades as number one, CNN’s ratings have dropped dismally behind cable news competitors Fox News, MSNBC, and at times even behind its sister network HLN.

This week, an Israeli court of law spoke the truth on the Rachel Corrie case. Yet, in taking photos out of chronology and context, and posting “news” photos that are actually Photoshop hack jobs, CNN’s reporting has fallen to a new low. “America’s most trusted news source” has, quite simply, lost the public’s trust.

About the Author
Shraga Simmons is a foremost expert on media bias relating to the Mideast conflict. He holds a degree in journalism from the University of Texas and served as the founding editor of HonestReporting.com. His frontline experiences are chronicled in the acclaimed book, “David & Goliath: The Explosive Inside Story of Media Bias in the Mideast Conflict” (2012).